What is Laudanum?
Laudanum is an opium drug that is made into an alcoholic solution or a tincture. It was a popular beverage during the Victorian era. Because of its pain-relieving properties, this drug was used to remedy many types of sickness, from common colds to more complicated conditions such as heart disease. During that time, everyone, regardless of gender or age, had access to Laudanum.
Paracelsus was the first person to experiment on this drug during the 1500s. He was impressed by its exceptional benefits and named it after the Latin word “laudare,” which means praise. Sadly, Paracelsus was too preoccupied with its benefits to understand its highly addictive properties. Modern addictive substances like morphine and heroin are derived from it. More than 50 percent of major crimes committed in the US are linked to opiate abuse.
Laudanum, now known as tincture of opium, is comprised of 10 percent opium powder by weight and changing amounts of alcohol. Opium tinctures like laudanum usually contain 25 percent ethanol (alcohol) on average, with some variants containing 60–90 percent alcohol. According to the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) , it is a strictly controlled substance under Schedule II classification, which means that This drug has a high potential for abuse and that a licensed professional can only dispense it. As a result, its current use is limited to providing relief for diarrhea, pain, cough, and opiate withdrawal symptoms among newborns born to mothers dependent on the drug.
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In Victorian-era Europe and North America, this drug was considered as a cure-all medicine and creative aid by artists and civilians alike. As a liquid composed mostly of alcohol, laudanum was mostly taken orally to relieve mental and physical ailments. However, as a form of the highly addictive drug opium, laudanum is far from a healthy tincture. Today, pure opium is not used in most medical practices and this drug has been replaced by a more sophisticated and safer opiate medication. Even though this drug is no longer widely prescribed, people who try this drug may develop a laudanum addiction.
Laudanum is highly addictive because it contains several habit-forming drugs: opium, morphine, codeine and alcohol. History tells us that addiction to this drug was a typical but unrecognized illness of the 19th century. Individuals frequently used the drug to soothe everything from depression to headaches, however, physical dependence and addiction were unrecognized at this time. Therefore, addiction to this drug went largely untreated. Laudanum was the cause for more suicides by overdose than any other poison throughout the 19th century.
What is Laudanum Used For?
Laudanum was usually taken orally, sublingually (inserted under the tongue), and buccally (inserted between the gum and cheek). It was used to ease mental and physical ailments.
However, this drug is a form of the highly addictive drug opium. Laudanum is still available by prescription in the US. In the rare cases that laudanum is prescribed, the drug can decrease symptoms of:
- Acute or persistent diarrhea
- If medicines like Imodium are not efficient in treating severe diarrhea, some physicians may prescribe this drug.
- Neonatal abstinence syndrome
- This drug may relieve acute opiate withdrawal symptoms in babies whose mothers were dependent on opioids during pregnancy.
- Moderate to severe pain
- This drug is an opioid used for pain relief.
Laudanum was first created in the 16th century by Paracelsus, a known alchemist at that time. A more modernized form of the drug was made in the 17th century and sold in North America and Europe as a cure-all remedy. Laudanum use peaked during the 19th century when it was readily available in drugstores, grocers, and even pubs to people of every walks of life.
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) , laudanum was used to soothe all manner of mental and physical illnesses, from melancholy to headaches and menopausal and menstrual discomfort. This particular drug was also recognized as improving creativity, most probably because of the euphoric effects of its opium content. As a result, several famous poets and artists tinkered in laudanum use during the Victorian era, including writers Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
Even when it was used in small portions as a creative boost, this drug was still highly addictive. Coleridge revealed to composing the famous poem, “Kubla Khan,” after waking from an opium-induced state. The famous writer later became addicted to opium. He wrote letters to trusted friends about the mental and physical effects of this drug, now known as withdrawal symptoms that he was experiencing. Similar to Coleridge, many individuals struggled from physical dependence on this drug during the 19th century. Unfortunately, the dangers of this drug were not fully understood because the concept of addiction was not known in this era.
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Common Side Effects of Laudanum
- Dysphoria, or sadness
- Shortness of breath and Irregular breathing
- Pinpoint pupils, or miosis
- Itchy skin (familiar with morphine)
Severe Side Effects of Laudanum
- Laudanum binds to the brain’s opioid receptors. This releases a rush of dopamine in the brain.
- As this drug prevents diarrhea, high doses of this substance can lead to constipation.
- Respiratory Depression
- Because of the high percentage of alcohol in this drug, Laudanum can lead to respiratory depression.
- Physical Dependence
- Because this drug contains various opioids, this substance is highly addictive. Continuous use of this drug can eventually make someone physically dependent on it. This only means they may experience withdrawal symptoms when they are not taking it.
- Alcohol Use Disorder
- Because this drug often contains high alcohol levels, individuals can develop an alcohol use disorder from this substance.
- Opioid Use Disorder
- Using this drug can lead to an opioid use disorder. or opiate addiction. Treating a person with laudanum use disorder may require the user to seek professional help.
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Laudanum Overdose Symptoms
Laudanum may provide immediate relief from a lot of discomforts, but when it is taken in large amounts, this drug can lead to serious and potentially deadly symptoms. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) , more deaths by overdose are caused by prescription drugs, such as antidepressants and opioids, than by street drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and amphetamines. The following are the most common signs of an overdose from this drug:
- Because this drug contains high amounts of alcohol, particularly ethanol, taking large quantities of laudanum may cause respiratory distress or may depress functions of the respiratory system. People who suffer from respiratory depression may initially complain of nasal flaring and having difficulty breathing, which could later become cyanotic.
- By acting on certain opiate receptors on the gastrointestinal tract, opium-based drugs inhibit peristalsis, which is the reason why these medications are effective against diarrhea. Therefore, high doses of laudanum may cause the person to suffer from constipation or difficult bowel movements.
Constriction of the Pupils
- Most opiates, such as laudanum, are known to induce pupillary constriction, or miosis, even in the absence of light. Therefore, one way of assessing laudanum overdose symptoms is to look at the person’s pupils.
- It is the feeling of invulnerability or elation, which is usually caused by the stimulation of opioid receptors found in the brain. The primary active ingredient of this substance is morphine, and morphine contributes to the increased feeling of well-being among those who use the drug. Laudanum’s effect of making someone feel euphoric is the primary reason why it became popular during the 19th century and why a large number of people have become addicted to the drug.
- Although this drug can make users feel elated, it can also disrupt the chemical balance in the brain. As a result, users feel deep sadness or depression right after feeling high. In effect, those who have become dependent on this drug show extreme mood swings, which may urge them to take the laudanum again.
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Treating Laudanum Addiction
Laudanum treatment centers are essential for beating an addiction to the drug that is often called “Tincture of Opium.” This prescription medication is used to treat severe diarrhea caused by chronic disease. For example, cancer patients often take this drug to help with the diarrhea caused by chemotherapy treatments. Laudanum rehab programs treat people who abuse the drug. These are often people who are abusing their prescription or buying the drug illegally. The addictive element in laudanum is opium. Treatment for this type of addiction is the same as the treatment used to treat prescription drug addiction.
Inpatient prescription opiate treatment centers have programs that range from detox to recovery. These programs often include a transitional phase into an extended inpatient program, which is a controlled and supervised environment in which the people struggling with prescription opiate medications can learn to prevent relapse and manage cravings. Inpatient drug rehab may be the best option for the treatment of laudanum dependency and abuse and to teach the person to successfully live sober after rehab.
Inpatient programs are the most effective and intensive treatment options for prescription opioid addiction. These programs guide the person through medically assisted detox, behavioral therapy, and other services (possibly including medication-assisted treatment or MAT), will be added to the treatment. Inpatient treatment programs usually last 30, 60, or 90 days .
Find the Right Treatment Plan at We Level Up NJ
Please, do not try to detox from Laudanum on your own. The prescription opioid detox process can be difficult and painful without medical help and assistance. However, getting through the detox process is crucial for continued treatment. We Level Up NJ provides proper care with round-the-clock medical staff to assist your recovery through our medically-assisted Opioid Detox Program. So, reclaim your life, call us to speak with one of our treatment specialists. Our counselors know what you are going through and will answer any of your questions.
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 DEA – https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/drug_of_abuse.pdf
 NCBI – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25545140/
 CDC – https://www.cdc.gov/phlp/publications/topic/prescription.html